VATICAN INSIDER: TALITHA KUM, THE WAR ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING – MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in California with family and friends but that does not mean I will not be thinking of and praying for you in this special season. In addition, I’ll be coming into your homes as I’ll be on “At Home with Jim and Joy,” and have prepared some special shows for my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider.” So stay tuned for those!

My home is ready – my front door, my dining room table (always set for 4, year round, different settings) and my Lladro Nativity Scene:

I wish all of you, my friends, family and faithful readers, TV viewers and radio listeners a blessed, holy, happy and healthy Christmas and a splendid New Year, a year that will be so wonderful you’ll find it hard to believe!
Before we part, however, I have a special gift for you as you will see below – One Solitary Life.

VATICAN INSIDER: TALITHA KUM, THE WAR ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING

My special guest this weekend on Vatican Insider is Sr. Gabriella Bottani, international coordinator for Talitha Kum, an international network of women against human trafficking, under the auspices of the UISG – International Union of Superiors General.

Sister explains the name, Talitha Kum, where the organization is working, how they coordinate activities and what happens when they save a person, almost always women and young females, from traffickers. A wonderful explanation of the amazing, and often thankless, work that Talitha Kum members do around the world!

Sr. Gabriella is on the right on this photo taken in September when members were received by Pope Francis:

Click here for more information: https://www.talithakum.info/
IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on http://www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/audio-library/index.asp (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)

MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”

A TIME FOR JOY AND A TIME FOR TEARS

A TIME FOR JOY AND A TIME FOR TEARS

Luke 2, 8Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.10The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Yesterday, Christmas, we rejoiced in the birth of Our Savior Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Son of God, the small, fragile babe Who came to earth to grow in wisdom, age and grace, to live and to die for us, to redeem mankind.

Jesus’ birth was joyful and his death was as well because his death on the Cross was followed by the Resurrection and our redemption.

While we might be fearful of death, we must remember that Jesus died for us so we could be with Him in heaven after our earthly life.

All those thoughts – and the beautiful homilies I heard these days – touched my life personally in a surprising way late one recent night.

My Christmas plans for time in Chicago and Milwaukee with friends and family stunningly changed several days ago with a phone call that my sister’s husband Paul had just died. I made plans to fly to California and revised my Chicago-Rome travels, doing so only when I knew the date of the funeral.

I flew to San Diego yesterday, Christmas Day, and was able to spend part of Christmas with Gail, her 3 children and 9 grandchildren. We actually had a beautiful afternoon and evening – lots of tears, love, laughter, sharing and a beautiful turkey dinner with everyone pitching in – there were 17 of us! We even played a game my sister had ordered and we laughed until we cried….the good tears!

Words always fail at a moment like this. The words that do help, and help more as time passes, are prayers – and that is what I ask of you today, my faithful blog and Facebook friends. Include Paul and Gail and the family in your prayers in coming days, especially that the Lord will fill their hearts and souls with peace and understanding and with the strength to accept the difficult moments that will be ahead.

My prayer is also that they remember the countless beautiful moments of the past – Gail and Paul’s September 2018 50th anniversary celebrations, the family cruise, the years of fun vacations and travels and family reunions on the East Coast and in the Midwest, the weddings and the births of grandchildren, the years of love and joy and laughter and sharing that made their lives – my life – so memorable and blessed!

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Chicago with family and friends and I already have a calendar filled with special events, including feeding the homeless on Christmas Day with other volunteers from Catholic Charities in Chicago. I did this last year and it was an exceptional experience. I’ll surely be posting some photos of the food-laden tables and smiling volunteers!

I’ll be coming into your homes this season as I’ve prepared some specials for “At Home with Jim and Joy,” and for my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider.” So stay tuned for those specials!

Wishing all of you, my friends, family and faithful readers, a blessed, holy, happy and healthy Christmas and a splendid New Year, a year that will be so wonderful you’ll find it hard to believe!

Before I go, however, I have a special gift for you – read on….

MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.


“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”

VATICAN INSIDER RETURNS TO THE “ANGELICUM” – WHAT GIFTS WOULD GOD LIKE AT CHRISTMAS?

Had an interesting Vatican experience this morning. Every year at Christmas Vatican employees receive a panetone and a bottle of spumante. I learned only last week that retirees also receive this gift and was told where to go on Via della Conciliazione. I went this morning, showed my ID, said yes, I am a Vatican retiree, that my pension goes to the Vatican bank, etc. MY name was not on any list and I learned that only retirees with 20 or more years of service get the panetone and spumante…..under 20, even 19 years, will not get you a Christmas gift. I wonder if Pope Francis knows this!

VATICAN INSIDER RETURNS TO THE “ANGELICUM”

Tune in this weekend to Vatican Insider for Part II of my conversation with Dominican Father Benedict Croell, director of Development and Mission Advancement atSt. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical University, known by its friends here in Rome as the Angelicum. Part I aired last weekend.

Fr. Croell hails from Broomfield, Colorado. Among his university studies was time at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He has served in parish, university and itinerant preaching ministries as well as in the Order’s East African missions where he was novice master for friars in their initial stage of formation from 7 countries. He was Director of Vocations for the Eastern Province Dominicans from 2010-18 at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He was named a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s along with 21 other U.S, Dominican Friars during the Ash Wednesday Mass.

Here are a few more photos of the breathtaking views from the Angelicum

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on http://www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/audio-library/index.asp (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)

WHAT GIFTS WOULD GOD LIKE AT CHRISTMAS?

At today’s general audience in the festive setting of the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis catechesis on Christmas focused on the idea of “surprises.” While the world insists on exchanging presents, he asked, “what gifts and surprises would God want?”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Francis began. “In a few days it will be Christmas. In this busy season, we might ask ourselves how the Lord himself would like us to keep this feast. If we look at the first Christmas, we see that it is full of God’s surprises. Mary is visited by an angel; Joseph is told to take her in, to become a father to her Child and to flee with the Holy Family to Egypt. But the greatest surprise of all is that God himself becomes a little Child, born in humility and poverty.

“Christmas changes our world,” the Holy Father continued. It speaks to us of God’s self-giving love that should inspire the way we live and relate to one another. It tells us that we best celebrate the Savior’s birth by imitating Mary’s trusting faith and Joseph’s quiet openness to God’s will, and by opening our hearts to the Lord, who asks us to make room for him in our busy lives.”

“Amid the bustle of our Christmas preparations,” stressed Francis, “may we not forget the very One whose birth we are celebrating! And in worshiping the Son of God, born in the poverty of our flesh, may we be mindful of the poor and those in need all around us. This Christmas, may you and your families experience the joy and peace proclaimed by the angels, and be ever more open to God’s wonderful surprises!”

A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS: THE REAL JOY OF GIVING

A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS: THE REAL JOY OF GIVING

I became aware of the possibility of having a very different Christmas in the U.S when I spotted a blog just days after Thanksgiving that featured five individuals, wearing white aprons and broad smiles, who had just served Thanksgiving dinner to some of Chicago’s homeless through Catholic Charities Chicago.

I wrote the blog author, congratulating him and saying that was something I would love to do. He wrote back and, with a lot of exclamation marks, said they would be doing it again on Christmas Day, that I was most welcome to join the volunteers and he then told me how and where to participate!

And so my Christmas Day 2017 began.

Well, Christmas Day really began, of course with Mass at one of my favorite churches in America, Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The presider at the 9:30 Mass – though I did not know this when I decided on that Mass – was Msgr. Michael Boland, head of Catholic Charities in Chicago and a long time friend. Here are a few photos I took before and after Mass.

The “Resurrection Cross”

I returned briefly to my hotel after Mass to pick up some special items I had brought for the occasion, including several hundred holy cards that featured a picture of Pope Francis and some of his words that I wanted to leave with the homeless.

When I arrived at the CC office on LaSalle street shortly after 11, I was surprised and delighted to note the large number of volunteers, especially because it was Christmas and also because there seemed to be quite a number of families. You somehow picture families at home, sharing breakfast, opening gifts, kids playing with new toys, etc.

The volunteers all lined up to receive a white plastic apron and pair of plastic gloves. We were ushered into the dining room where, on one side round tables of ten were set for over 100 people and, on the other side, were long tables with abundant servings of many, many kinds of foods.

 

 

Each volunteer had a specific assignment. Those with more experience were table captains and they directed each of us carrying a tray to those tables where people had yet to be served. Each volunteer who was to serve food received a tray with two plates on it, and each plate was filled to overflowing by the volunteers serving behind the food stations.

Smaller tables were set up with desserts and beverages – it was almost exclusively the turf of the younger  family members!

 

 

 

I joined what I called “the dessert brigade” where each of us was given a plate with several desserts and one soft drink. We followed those with the dinner plates to the tables, and returned to our stations to repeat the same process. Yet others were assigned to fill water glasses and coffee cups.

Msgr. Boland was present to the very end, even when the first group of homeless had finished dinner and those waiting to eat were ushered into the dining room – a festively decorated room, I might add.

We served several hundred people by the end of the lunchtime, and I have to say it was such a heartening experience for so many reasons. I especially loved the idea that we were serving people at tables, not making them stand in a long buffet line. That certainly preserves an iota of human dignity for people who may not feel very dignified for the greater part of each day.

There was not very much time, as you could imagine, to speak individually with each homeless person but everyone with whom I spoke was cordial and polite and full of smiles – especially if you asked their name! I learned that there were some who were not homeless but rather people who do not have much and who live simply, perhaps in a one-room apartment, but have trouble connecting with others. The people they know best and are most comfortable with are those they break bread with at the food kitchens for the homeless.

The homeless also have networks. They know where to get lunch and dinner every day, be it in the city or the suburbs, be it in a church or a school or the hall of some fraternal organization, and they share that info among themselves. They know where bathrooms are available and also know where the warming shelters are, such as those needed right after Christmas when temperatures plummeted so far that anyone sleeping outside would have surely died of the cold.

All of the food served through Catholic Charities five days a week is donated by Chicago restaurants! It is cooked and ready to be served when it arrives at the food kitchens. The diversity of the menu and the quantities offered were staggering – at least to me, a first time volunteer.

When the Christmas guests left the CC center, each one received a pair of gloves and one of the holy cards I had brought from Rome. Who knows…..

Individual parishes or organizations such as the Knights of Columbus or the Knights of Malta serve the meals Monday through Wednesday and volunteers come from the specific parish or organization. Holy Name Cathedral staff and parishioners volunteer on Thursdays and Fridays.

What most surprised and delighted me were the number of families who volunteered! And not just on Christmas Day – they come during the year as well. To see a family of 5 or 6 – Mom and Dad and the kids, even as young as 5! – was so very heart-warming!

To see the very young ones, and especially teenagers, have a good time, serve with joy and truly want to be volunteering was one of the biggest rewards of the day for me. My favorite was a little boy, about 5 or 6, whose name was Charlie. Charlie was the fastest member of the dessert brigade and probably had the biggest smile, I might add.

It was gratifying to think that these young people are learning at a tender age that there are people in the world who do not have what they have, a warm home, a family, an education and a much better chance in life to grow up and have their own family and home. These young people learn early about sacrifice, about helping others, about being altruistic, about the real meaning of charity.

There were no groans of “Mom, do I really have to be here!” or complaints about not being home Christmas morning. No pleading, “Are we through? Can we go home now?”

I saw – and experienced – the real joy of giving!

SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

I leave tomorrow for the States where I’ll spend my Christmas vacation in both Milwaukee and Chicago with family and some close friends. For the brief period I will be gone, I’d like to leave you with a very special gift in place of my regular daily column – Pope St. John Paul’s 1994 Christmas Message to Children. If you are a child – or a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle and have small children near you – this is for you! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

It is fairly long so you might want to read this to children over a period of days, perhaps during the 12 Days of Christmas”  Savor it gently!

JESUS IS BORN!!!

In a few days we shall celebrate Christmas, the holy day that is so full of meaning for all children in every family.

This year it will be even more so, because this is the Year of the Family. Before the Year of the Family ends, I want to write to you, the children of the whole world, and to share with you in the joy of this happy time of year.

Christmas is the feast day of a Child, of a newborn Baby. So it is your feast day too! You wait patiently for it and get ready for it with joy, counting the days and even the hours to the holy night of Bethlehem.

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I can almost see you: you are setting up the crib at home, in the parish, in every corner of the world, recreating the surroundings and the atmosphere in which the Saviour was born. Yes, it is true!

At Christmas time, the stable and the manger take centre place in the Church; and everyone hurries to go there, to make a spiritual pilgrimage, like the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

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Later, it will be the Magi arriving from the distant East, following the star, to the place where the Redeemer of the universe lay.

You too, during the days of Christmas, visit the cribs, stopping to look at the Child lying in the hay. You look at His mother and you look at St. Joseph, the Redeemer’s guardian. As you look at the Holy Family, you think of your own family, the family in which you came into the world.

You think of your mother, who gave you birth, and of your father. Both of them provide for the family and for your upbringing, for it is the parents’ duty not only to have children but also to bring them up from the moment of their birth.

Dear children, as I write to you I am thinking of when many years ago I was a child like you. I too used to experience the peaceful feelings of Christmas, and when the star of Bethlehem shone, I would hurry to the crib together with the other boys and girls to relive what happened 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

We children expressed our joy mostly in song. How beautiful and moving are the Christmas carols that, in the tradition of every people, are sung around the crib! What deep thoughts they contain, and above all what joy and tenderness they express about the divine Child who came into the world that holy night!

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The days that follow the birth of Jesus are also feast days: so eight days afterward, according to the Old Testament tradition, the Child was given a name: He was called Jesus.

After 40 days, we commemorate His presentation in the Temple, like every other first-born son of Israel. On that occasion, an extraordinary meeting took place: Mary, when she arrived in the Temple with the Child, was met by the old man Simeon, who took the Baby Jesus in his arms and spoke these prophetic words:

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and for the glory to Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:29-32).

Then, speaking to His mother Mary, (Simeon) he added: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).

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So already in the very first days of Jesus’ life we heard the foretelling of the Passion, which will one day include His mother Mary too: on Good Friday she will stand silently by the cross of her Son.

Also, not much time will pass after His birth before the Baby Jesus finds Himself facing a grave danger: the cruel king Herod will order all the children under the age of 2 years to be killed, and for this reason Jesus will be forced to flee with His parents into Egypt.

You certainly know all about these events connected with the birth of Jesus. They are told to you by your parents and by priests, teachers and catechists, and each year you relive them spiritually at Christmas time together with the whole Church. So you know about these dramatic aspects of Jesus’ infancy.

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Dear friends! In what happened to the Child of Bethlehem you can recognize what happens to children throughout the world. It is true that a child represents the joy not only of its parents but also the joy of the Church and the whole of the society.

But it is also true that in our days, unfortunately, many children in different parts of the world are suffering and being threatened: they are hungry and poor, they are dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are abandoned by their parents and condemned to remain without a home, without the warmth of a family of their own, they suffer many forms of violence and arrogance from grown-ups.

How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grown-ups?

JESUS BRINGS THE TRUTH

The Child Whom we see in the manger at Christmas grew up as the years passed. When he was 12 years old, as you know, He went for the first time with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

There, in the crowds of pilgrims, He was separated from His parents and, with other boys and girls of His own age, he stopped to listen to the teachers in the Temple, for a sort of “catechism lesson”. The holidays were good opportunities for handing on the faith to children who were about the same age as Jesus.

But on this occasion it happened that this extraordinary Boy Who had come from Nazareth not only asked very intelligent questions but also started to give profound answers to those who were teaching Him. The questions and even more the answers astonished the Temple teachers.

It was the same amazement that later on would mark Jesus’ public preaching. The episode in the Temple of Jerusalem was simply the beginning and a kind of foreshadowing of what would happen some years later.

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Dear boys and girls who are the same age as the 12-year-old Jesus, are you not reminded now of the religion lessons in the parish and at school, lessons which you are invited to take part in?

So I would like to ask you some questions: What do you think of your religion lessons: Do you become involved like the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple? Do you regularly go to these lessons at school and in the parish? Do your parents help you to do so?

The 12-year-old Jesus became so interested in the religion lesson in the Temple of Jerusalem that, in a sense, He even forgot about His own parents. Mary and Joseph, having started off on the journey back to Nazareth with other pilgrims, soon realized that Jesus was not with them.

They searched hard for Him. They went back and only on the third day did they find Him in Jerusalem, in the Temple. “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously” (Lk. 2:48).

How strange is Jesus’ answer and how it makes us stop and think! “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Fathers house?” (Lk. 2:49). It was an answer difficult to accept.

The evangelist Luke simply adds that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). In fact, it was an answer that would be understood only later, when Jesus, as a grown-up, began to preach and say that for His heavenly Father He was ready to face any sufferings and even death on the cross.

From Jerusalem Jesus went back with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, where He was obedient to them (cf. Lk. 2:51). Regarding this period, before His public preaching began, the Gospel notes only that He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).

Dear children, in the Child Whom you look at in the crib you must try to see also the 12-year-old Boy in the Temple in Jerusalem, talking with the teachers. He is the same grown Man Who later, at 30 years old, will begin to preach the word of God, will choose the Twelve Apostles, will be followed by crowds thirsting for the truth.

At every step He will confirm His extraordinary teaching with signs of divine power: He will give sight to the blind, heal the sick, even raise the dead. And among the dead whom He will bring back to life there will be the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Naim, given back alive to his weeping mother.

It is really true: this Child, now just born, once He is grown up, as Teacher of divine truth, will show an extraordinary love for children. He will say to the Apostles: “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them,” and He will add: “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:14).

Another time, as the Apostles are arguing about who is the greatest, He will put a child in front of them and say: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).

On the occasion, He also spoke harsh words of warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).

How important children are in the eyes of Jesus! We could even say that the Gospel is full of the truth about children. The whole of the Gospel could actually be read as the “Gospel of children”.

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What does it mean that, “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”? Is not Jesus pointing to children as models even for grown-ups? In children there is something that must never be missing in people who want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

People who are destined to go to heaven are simple like children, and like children are full of trust, rich in goodness and pure. Only people of this sort can find in God a Father and, thanks to Jesus, can become in their own turn children of God.

Is not this the main message of Christmas? We read in St. John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14); and again: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).

Children of God! You, dear children, are sons and daughters of your parents. God wants us all to become His adopted children by grace. Here we have the real reason for Christmas joy, the joy I am writing to you about at the end of this Year of the Family.

Be happy in this “Gospel of divine sonship”. In this joy I hope that the coming Christmas holidays will bear abundant fruit in this Year of the Family.

JESUS GIVES HIMSELF

Dear friends, there is no doubt that an unforgettable meeting with Jesus is First Holy Communion, a day to be remembered as one of life’s most beautiful. The Eucharist, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, on the night before His passion, is a Sacrament of the new covenant, rather, the greatest of the Sacraments.

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In this Sacrament, the Lord becomes food for the soul under the appearances of bread and wine. Children receive this Sacrament solemnly a first time—in First Holy Communion—and are encouraged to receive it afterward as often as possible in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.

To be able to receive Holy Communion, as you know, it is necessary to have received Baptism: this is the first of the Sacraments and the one most necessary for salvation, Baptism is a great event!

In the Church’s first centuries, when Baptism was received mostly by grown-ups, the ceremony ended with receiving the Eucharist, and was a solemn as First Holy Communion is today.

Later on, when Baptism began to be given mainly to newborn babies–and this is the case of many of you, dear children, so that in fact you do not remember the day of your Baptism—the more solemn celebration was transferred to the moment of First Holy Communion.

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Every boy and every girl belonging to a Catholic family knows all about this custom: First Holy Communion is a great family celebration. On that day, together with the one who is making his or her First Holy Communion, the parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, godparents, and sometimes also the instructors and teachers, generally receive the Eucharist.

The day of First Holy Communion is also a great day of celebration in the parish. I remember as though it were yesterday when, together with the other boys and girls of my own age, I received the Eucharist for the first time in the parish Church of my town.

This event is usually commemorated in a family photo, so that it will not be forgotten. Photos like these generally remain with a person all through his or her life.

As time goes by, people take out these pictures and experience once more the emotions of those moments; they return to the purity and joy experienced in that meeting with Jesus, the One Who out of love became the Redeemer of man.

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For how many children in the history of the church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength! How can we fail to be reminded, for example, of holy boys and girls who lived in the first centuries and are still known and venerated throughout the Church?

MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the States with family and friends, the first Christmas at home in a few years. There is little news today from the Vatican (more time to pack!) so my sole offering is a Christmas reflection called “One Solitary Life” – I know you will be moved beyond telling.

I have prepared a Christmas special for “Vatican Insider” this coming weekend. and be sure to also tune in to “At Home with Jim and Joy” when I bring some news and specials from Rome.

Before I forget, abundant and heartfelt thanks for the avalanche of beautiful messages and emails about my investiture as a Lady of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. More than anything, I wish I could have responded individually but you are in my heart and my prayers!

May your Christmas be beautiful and blessed! May you find new meaning in the birth of Our Lord and Savior and His eternal presence among us, and may the New Year enrich the gifts of Faith, Hope and Love and, especially this Jubilee Year, mercy! May God sit on your shoulder now and throughout the New Year!

I took the photo you see in “One Solitary Life” at a church in Beit Sahour, a small Palestinian town east of Bethlehem, at what is known as Shepherd’s Field – where an Angel appeared to the Shepherds to announce the birth of Christ. When I was on a pilgrimage here, we had Mass in what is known as the shepherds cave. The Franciscans acquired a shrine there in 1347. Here are two other photos from the Shepherds Field church.

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These pictures were taken in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The last two show an area beneath an altar: the star you see is placed above the spot where tradition says Baby Jesus was born and laid in the manger.

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MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

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“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”